When I see an elephant fly…

Last weekend ended up being a bit longer than we expected. Last week, we knew we had Wednesday off for teachers day. We also didn’t have school Friday because of the province-wide sport day that lasted until Saturday. So, over the prior weekend we decided to ask for that Thursday off and if we could skip sport day to go to two of the most famous places in Thailand – Ayutthaya and Khao Yai. Ayutthaya is one of the old capitals of Thailand and has many temples and ruins to see. Khao Yai is a very popular national park about 2 hours from Ayutthaya. (E- They are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.) Ethan asked on Monday and we really didn’t think this plan had any chance of actually working out. But, Tuesday afternoon we got the news that we had been cleared by the director to go!

We had about an hour and a half to pack and get to the bus station because we wanted to take the overnight bus to Ayutthaya. We got to the bus station at 5:15 and the bus left at 5:30. Surprisingly, the bus was pretty empty, which was awesome because we ended up sleeping stretched across the aisle. At 3:30 am we were woken abruptly by the driver telling us we were in Ayutthaya. So we hopped off the bus only to realize we weren’t at a bus station, but on the side of the highway. We wondered if this was some cruel joke, but apparently it wasn’t because several buses dropped more people off there. We stood around for a while trying to get our bearings and figure out how to get into town. After some thinking and trying to get information from the motorbike taxi drivers, we decided it would be best to get a ride. Unfortunately, our usual cheap forms of transport were not available so we paid a little over $5 for two motorbike taxis.
The taxis dropped us off at a guesthouse that had no vacancy, so we walked to another one nearby. We were let in by an older woman who spoke a little bit of English. She told us to wait 2 hours until they opened and then we could get a room. So we slept on the couch until 7ish when another woman came in, who promptly told us they were full. So we got up to leave and somehow in that 5 minutes she was able to come up with a room – don’t ask me how. We slept for a while, then spent the majority of the afternoon figuring out how to get to Khao Yai and buying bus tickets back to Thawangpha. After we had all that figured out we took a sunset boat tour to some of the temples in Ayutthaya.

This was the last of 3 temples on the sunset tour

The next day our train left for Pak Chong- one of the cities on the outskirts of the park. When we got to Pak Chong we were picked up by the owner of the guesthouse/tour we were taking and had a few hours to get lunch and wander around until the half day portion of the tour started. At 3, we hopped into the tour truck with a couple from Germany, a guy from Toronto (E- It was good to chat with a Leafs fan.)  and a girl from Indonesia – quite the multicultural mix if you ask me. Our first stop was a fresh water spring that had been turned into a swimming hole for tourists. It was pretty neat because the water was crystal clear and came up out of the ground. I didn’t swim, but Ethan did. We were there for about 30 minutes then we headed out to visit a cave. The cave was huge and stinky. And there were bats. They were itty bitty ones though so it wasn’t scary. After that, we went to the bottom of this hill that contained another cave for the highlight of the tour. At dusk, the bats in this cave all leave at the same time to go hunt for food. We really didn’t know what to expect from these bats, but as soon as the the sun went down, as promised, the bats took off out of the cave. It was one of the coolest things we have ever seen. They came out in one steady stream that looked like a giant snake. They were also being hunted by hawks and with the binoculars you could watch the hawks dive bomb the bats and I even saw one catch a meal. The stream of bats lasted for what seemed like forever (it was really more like 40 minutes). It just kept going and going. The tour group claims that there are somewhere between 1 and 4 million bats – we kept getting different numbers so who knows how many bats there really are?! It was crazy. The sound was cool too, but hard to describe. After watching the bats we headed back to the guesthouse, where we ate dinner with the guy from Toronto. We went to bed early because we had signed up for the full day tour the next day, which started at 7am.

Millions of bats and a Buddhist cave

The full day tour was long, but definitely worth it. As we were driving into the park the guide spotted a Great Hornbill bird. This bird is infamous around here and really hard to spot. We didn’t have great vantage point because we were right underneath it, but we could see that it was a colorful and very large bird. We continued driving and stopped at a view point that overlooked a lot of the park. As we continued driving into the park the guide spotted Gibbons (monkeys) way up in the trees next to the road. We decided that having a guide was worth it right there because we never would have spotted those on our own. We watched a group of about 5 gibbons swing around in the trees for a few minutes then continued into the park. Up the road ways we didn’t have to look hard to spot a large group of pig-tailed macaques (another kind of monkey) walking down the road. They looked like mini baboons. We took pictures as they went past and continued on. After a short break at the visitor center, we drove past some places where wild elephants can usually be seen, but we didn’t see any. Elephants are so sneaky! After that, we hiked one of the nature trails with the guide to one of the wildlife viewing stations in the park. It was positioned near a salt lick, which the park replenishes for the animals. The idea is that the salt is good for the animals, it brings them out into the open for people to see, and it also helps keep the numbers of animals in check by providing an easy target for predators. (E- It helps to keep the animal population strong as well because the carnivores, such as wild dogs in the park, will go after the weaker herbivores and the strong will survive.)

We had lunch following the hike and after that we visited the waterfall that was used in the movie “The Beach.” The fall wasn’t quite as spectacular as it looked in the movie, but it was still really pretty. We spent an hour taking pictures and exploring around the falls. After that we drove up to the highest point in the park to take in the amazing view. That was followed by a crazy elephant “hunt”, which I thought was the best part of the trip. The guide was on his walkie talkie trying to find out where we could see elephants and after a few minutes of driving the truck started flying down the road. The guide stuck half his body out of the window to tell us that he received a signal that there were elephants down the road. So the guy driving continued to floor it to the spot, but no elephants. We were disappointed and turned around to head back when he got another call on the walkie that there really were elephants up the road – we had passed them somehow. We sped back at a dizzying speed and were at last rewarded with a group of elephants attempting to cross the road. We pulled off the road and were watching a mother and baby survey us when we looked to the right where a big male elephant had come into view in the trees. He was clearly annoyed that we had blocked his path, but he just turned around. (E- He could have easily just ran right through us. The Leafs fan and I decided that had nobody been injured, we wouldn’t have minded him trying to.) The mother and baby got onto the road and ended up coming really close to the trucks. It was so cool. We watched the elephants for a while, but eventually they went back into hiding in the trees. It’s pretty amazing that an animal so large is so good at hiding. (E- There was something far more majestic about seeing these animals in the wild. It was incredible.)

Haew Suwat Waterfall from “The Beach”
Mommy protecting her child from the tourists

That night we ate dinner at the guesthouse again and went to a country western bar for a drink with the guy from Canada and a girl that had been on our tour from Germany. Listening to a Thai sing country western was strange. The whole city of Pak Chong was country western themed. It was really strange, but also kind of neat. The guy that runs the guesthouse said it’s that way because the whole town is on one street, just like in the old west. The next day our train back to Ayutthaya left at 10. We were really excited to get back there because our friends from orientation, Alexis and Shannon were meeting us there. :]

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